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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!


The World Premiere of Oscar Wilde's




Ellie Beaven as Constance and Bart Edwards as Gerald

Photo by Jamie Leme


Reconstructed by Guillot de Saix & Henri de Briel


Adapted by Charles Osborne


Directed by Marc Urquhart


Set Designer: Tessa Battisti


Costume Designer: Laura Cordery & Bettina John


King's Head Theatre

13 Sept – 22 Oct 2011


How much of Constance, Oscar Wilde actually wrote, we will never know. It is clear that after his release from prison in 1897, he began work on a new script named Constance, however it is unclear how far he got before he sold the manuscript to an American actress, Mrs Cora Brown Potter. Judging from the King's Head's offering, I would say no further than the first act.

The contention over the play’s authenticity becomes even more intriguing, when we discover, Wilde's son, Vyan Holland and grandson, Merlin Holland are of totally opposing opinions. In 1954, Vyan Holland believed, “The plot and the scenario, on which it [Constance] is based, are undoubtedly his and also that a considerable part of the dialogue bears the authentic mark of my father's hand.” However in 2011, Merlin Holland in the Telegraph exclaims,“When I saw [the new production] I could scarcely believe my eyes. It’s being touted as a world premiere of a previously unproduced Oscar Wilde play. And, in two words, it’s complete tosh.” Personally, I am of the opinion that Vyan Holland is the more credible source as he actually knew the man, but of course I leave it to the audience to decide for themselves...

William Daventry (James Vaughan) is a wealthy industrialist, who’s pulled himself up by the boot straps to join the nobility and secure a position in the middle classes through his marriage to  the faithul, Constance (Ellie Beaven). At an evening of entertainment at their home, he takes a shine to the flirtatious wife of the Reverend (Bradley Cole), Delia (Kirsty Dillon) and offers to lend her the money to pay off her numerous debts for a small favour. Chaos ensues when Constance discoversher husband’s outrageous behaviour and she runs away with her childhood lover - poet and Duke, Gerald (Bart Edwards) with the blessings of her extended family, Lady Christina (Tamara Hinchco) and Sir Richard (John Atterbury). Daventry swears revenge, the Reverend goes round the bend and we learn the importance of being a good friend.

The acting in Constance is of an extremely high calibre, with Cordery and John's elegant and appropriate period costumes doing great justice to the work on show. Vaughan's Daventry is the deep voiced, alpha male, puffing on cigars and coarsely slapping his friends on the back, he strides about exuding the pride of a self made man from a working class background, totally at odds with the refined behaviour of Bart Edwards' Gerald.  Edwards portrays a high minded young man whose serious nature hides his sensitivity and true feelings for Constance. Ellie Beaven is highly expressive as the milk faced, loyal, Constance, her eyes often brimming with tears, the victim of an unjust union. Cole as the Reverend in his gold rimmed Potter style specs denounces all and sundry, pronouncing his lines like a train rushing past with pious fervour. He is, however, pathetically impotent to the caustic cynicism and wit of Tamara Hinchco's excellent Lady Christina. His coquettish wife, played by Kirsty Dillon is his polar opposite - a minx in an olive green dress with pink roses and peacock feathers in her hair. All the cast's annunciation was spot on and their performances were highly enjoyable to watch.

Wilde's ubiquitous epigrams are deployed with effortless aplomb, but there are moments, especially in the tedious second half, where the blade of Wilde's wit had been left in its scabbard. However on the cramped set, Urquhart directs the action with vigour and style, while the energy was well paced till the second half. Battisti makes the most of her limited options and designs a simple set with pastel walls and Victorian furniture. The twitter of birdsong was a little over used, but added a pastoral atmosphere.

Constance, coincidentally, was the name of Oscar Wilde's wife and is rather appropriate to this play, for both were neglected. Yet, despite their great effort at evoking the Wildean wit, which they do succeed in achieving at times, it is clear that this is the work of a tribute artist and not the master himself.


Deborah Blake as Lady Virginia
Photo by Jamie Leme
King's Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, Islington N1 1QN
Performances at 15.00 & 19.15
Tickets from £15
Box Office: 0207 478 0160

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